Is This Desire? (Vinyl Reissue)

Apr 15, 2021
Web Exclusive

By Michael Watkins


It should come as no surprise that an artist who has delivered a back catalogue of consistently wonderful records should be reissuing said back catalogue with a vinyl series that can be most-accurately described using those same terms. Very much like the safe option on any number of the contestant-based cookery shows you care to think of, if you are going to do something simple, you need to make sure it is the perfect version of that simplicity and, in vinyl terms, that is what the PJ Harvey reissue series has been to date.

Nothing flashy, nothing limited (apart from some signed versions of the demos released that accompany each of her solo releases), nothing that is going to get collectors all that excited. But, in producing a reissue series that is so plain, so benign, so unassuming by the modern reissue series standards, she is letting the music speak for itself, an outcome that is quintessential PJ Harvey.

If we veer away from the reissue itself and look at the music of Is This Desire?, we may perhaps be met by the most intriguing album of Harvey’s career up to that point. The brash rawness of Dry which was superseded by its follow-up Rid Of Me is seen here, combined with the serenity and emotional complexity of 1995’s To Bring You My Love. The result is a record that is easily one of Harvey’s least immediate in terms of impact. It does not quite grab and shake you, nor does it overwhelm you with an overtly pretty aesthetic. It does, however, and perhaps more so than the three records that precede it, entice you back in for multiple revisits, initially borne from a sense that she may have missed the incredibly high bar she had set for herself on those previous albums, but eventually, a realization kicks in that actually, she is just working with a sound that is much more complex, much more rounded, and much more whole.

It is a marriage that she has hitherto seem unfused by achieving, but one that Is This Desire? pulls off to remarkable effect. It is fair to say that the album sits in a tough spot in her back catalogue, sandwiched between the two behemoths that are ultimately and readily held up as her greatest works—the aforementioned To Bring You My Love and 2000’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea—but, in revisiting these records, removed from the linear timeline through which they were historically delivered, there is more than enough here to suggest that Is This Desire? deserves to be seen as an equal among such revered company. (www.pjharvey.net)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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